Give Kellen Moore a mulligan

It was an unprecedented sight Saturday: Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore standing with his hands on his hips, early and often.  Even he was wondering what the heck was going on.  After 43 games—all of them good, most of them great—Moore was due for an off-day.  And there it was on the hottest day game in Bronco Stadium history, a career-low 142 yards passing in the 30-10 win over Nevada. 

Go inside that number and that’s where it gets jaw-dropping, at least by Moore’s standards.  Yards per attempt is an important stat in pass efficiency rating, and the top reason Moore dropped from fourth to 11th this week in national rankings (11th still ain't bad).  He averaged just 4.3 yards on his 33 attempts against the Wolf Pack, the lowest of his career by over a yard.  Even if Mitch Burroughs had caught that 51-yard touchdown pass, Kellen's average would have been only 5.7 yards per attempt.  I’m thinking everyone cuts him some slack.

What was missing offensively for Boise State Saturday was not missing defensively.  To take the pistol offense, no matter who the quarterback is, and hold it to 182 yards is phenomenal.  But hardly an anomaly.  It was the 15th time in the Chris Petersen era that the Broncos have held an opponent under 200 yards.  The 152 yards yielded against Oregon two years ago was one of the best defensive performances in Bronco history.  And the 178 yards at Utah in 2006 is right up there, too.  Considering the intensity of Saturday’s showdown with Nevada, let’s put that one on a pedestal as well.

The Boise State defense was stellar in every way.  Consider what Nevada had done the week before at Texas Tech (a 35-34 loss).  The Wolf Pack rolled up 562 yards on the Red Raiders, 312 of it on the ground.  Mike Ball, Vai Taua’s replacement at running back, rushed for 139 yards in Lubbock.  Nevada rushed for only 59 yards total against the Broncos, and Ball had just 35 yards on 15 carries.  The Boise State front seven was impenetrable, and unsung in that group was linebacker Byron Hout, who missed in the infamous game in Reno last year.  He only had three tackles, but when the Pack wasn’t running head-on into Hout, it was running away from him.

When Boise State was just starting to climb the Top 25 in 2002 and 2003, much was written in the national media about how the Broncos had really good frontline players but wouldn’t hold up in a BCS conference because of lack of depth.  The perception has changed in recent years, and Boise State’s newfound reliance on depth has really been tested this season.  No more so than Saturday, when it was confirmed that Jerrell Gavins, the shining defensive star of September, had been lost due to a knee injury in practice last week—probably for the season.  Out of the blue came Quaylon Ewing-Burton to get the start against Nevada, and the sophomore cornerback came through with a team-leading seven tackles.  Ewing-Burton helped bottle up the Wolf Pack passing game to the tune of just 70 yards before the final-minute touchdown by Rishard Matthews.

After all the hype over which quarterback Nevada would play Saturday, it turned into Tyler Lantrip’s personal nightmare.  The senior was only 5-of-16 for 50 yards and an interception and was ripe for a benching as early as the second quarter.  But Cody Fajardo stood on the sidelines—with an injured shoulder, as it turned out.  Fajardo was supposed to be a lot more Colin Kaepernick-like (Lantrip certainly wasn’t).  But how about what Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault said after the game: “"I really felt like Cody could have possibly played this week, and yet there wasn't much of an effort from his side of it."  Some upset Pack fans can imagine Fajardo saying, “Did anyone get the number of that bus I was just thrown under?”

Being held to 329 yards by Nevada’s defense triggered a drop of one spot in each poll for Boise State.  Of course, Wisconsin’s 48-17 drubbing of Nebraska had just as much to do with it, as the Badgers leapfrogged the Broncos, who are down to No. 5 in AP and No. 6 in the Coaches Poll.  BSU lost 32 points in the AP Poll and 37 points on the coaches’ list.  Hot on BSU’s heels now are Oklahoma State, Stanford (which has already passed the Broncos in the Coaches Poll), and Clemson.  As for TCU, the Horned Frogs dropped out of the rankings for the first time in three years after their 40-33 loss to cross-Metroplex rival SMU Saturday.  The loss snapped TCU’s 22-game home winning streak.

It was one of those games Fresno State coach Pat Hill loves to play, but one that the Bulldogs have lost more often than not in recent years.  Ole Miss came into Bulldog Stadium with the 118th-ranked offense in the FBS.  But Rebel coach Houston Nutt, the one-time Boise State head man, changed quarterbacks—and his team rolled up 430 yards on a slew of big plays in a 38-28 victory.  Fresno State allowed gains of 20 or more yards eight times.  The Bulldogs had their own share of offense going, with Derek Carr throwing for 281 yards and a touchdown, and Robbie Rouse rushing for 123 yards and a TD on 28 carries.  But they didn’t have enough big-play answers.  Now Fresno State gears up for Boise State this Friday night on ESPN.

If ever there was a loss that could be spun as a catalyst, Idaho’s heartbreaking overtime defeat at Virginia Saturday is it.  The Vandals took the ACC’s Cavaliers into overtime, where the Humanitarian Bowl magic of 2009 failed to reappear.  Idaho coach Robb Akey decided to make it all-or-nothing and went for a two-point conversion, and Brian Reader’s pass to Mike LeGrone fell incomplete, giving Virginia a 21-20 victory.  Despite being outgained by 200 yards, Idaho hung in and almost came home with the upset, taking advantage of Cavalier turnovers and a blocked punt for a touchdown.  Aaron Grymes had a huge game for the Vandal defense, with a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and an interception.  Something to feed on as Louisiana Tech visits the Kibbie Dome for homecoming this week.

As Idaho Steelheads training camp opens today, let’s introduce a possible new scoring machine on the roster.  Forward Marc Rancourt, who spent last season in Europe, was an offensive whiz at Saint Mary’s in Canada, averaging more than a point and a half a game in his college career (216 points in 136 games).  The 27-year-old winger was the 2009 CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) Player of the Year after leading Canadian college hockey in scoring.  The Steelies’ season opens a week from this Friday at Utah, with the Grizzlies coming up to Boise for the CenturyLink Arena opener the following night.

This Day In Sports…October 3, 1951, 60 years ago today:

Bobby Thomson hits the “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” in the deciding game of the National League playoff series between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.  With two out in the bottom of the ninth—and the Dodgers leading 4-2—Thomson belted a three-run homer off Ralph Branca to give the Giants a 5-4 victory and the National League pennant.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)